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Sr Berchmans with Cardinal Nichols, Muhammad Nafees Zakaria (center R), Adrian O'Neill (R), and two former pupils Sr Berchmans with Cardinal Nichols, Muhammad Nafees Zakaria (center R), Adrian O'Neill (R), and two former pupils 

Irish nun honored for lengthy teaching career in Pakistan

A Catholic university in the UK awards Sister Berchmans with the Benedict Medal, its most prestigious award, for her 65 years of service teaching children in Pakistan.

By Devin Watkins

Sixty-five years spent teaching, most of them dedicated to Muslim, Christian, Parsi, and Hindu children in Pakistan.

Sr Berchmans inspired thousands of students and even educated Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, the late Benazir Bhutto, as well as Nobel laureate Nergis Mavalvala.

Now, at the age of 89, the Irish nun has received further recognition of her dedication and teaching prowess.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, presented Sr. Berchmans with the Benedict Medal last week.

The award is the most prestigious given by St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, in London, and is named after Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who visited in 2010. Recipients are decorated for significant contributions to education, interfaith-relations, and public life.

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High praise

Presenting Sr. Berchmans with the medal at the graduation ceremony, Cardinal Nichols, who is also the Chancellor of St. Mary’s University, praised her dedication and commitment. “Her examples of inclusivity and respect will guide our graduates as they embark on their own teaching journeys and continue to inspire future generations,” he said.

Also on hand was the President of Ireland, Michael Higgins, who congratulated Sr Berchmans for her contributions to society. “Through her work and her dedication to teaching she has become a powerful illustration of the beauty and potential of teaching,” he said, “and she has been an outstanding example of the power of inclusivity and inter-personal empowerment.”

Muhammad Nafees Zakaria, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, called her a beacon for people to follow.

“We must all look up to these kind of people, like Sr Berchmans, and have at least one or two of their attributes in our own lives,” he said. “The world needs people like her more than ever.”

Missionary example

Sr. John Berchmans Conway, R.J.M. was born in County Clare, Ireland, in 1930, joining the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Willesden, London, in 1951.

A missionary to Pakistan, she taught at the Convents of Jesus and Mary in Lahore, Murree, and Karachi.

She even received one of Pakistan’s highest civil awards – the Sitara-i-Quaid-i-Azam – in celebration of her “constant adherence to the call of duty”.

Sr Berchmans receives the Benedict Medal
24 July 2019, 14:10